Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent
Penrith co-captain Kevin Kingston says he's relieved the club is holding onto prop Tim Grant, and still considers him as a future leader at the club.
Speculation was rife late on Sunday that the former Origin prop was on the outer at the club, forcing Panthers boss Phil Gould to release a statement confirming their commitment to him.
And while NRL.com understands that a mid-season release is still a possibility with either the Rabbitohs or Titans, the Panthers are holding firm for now.
"Obviously Gus has released that statement, so I'm just relieved at the fact that Timmy's going to be there. I've played with him for many years, I love having him around. He's a very popular guy within the group so I'm glad he's staying," he said on Monday.
Grant, 26, is contracted to Penrith until the end of 2015 but his heavily back-ended deal – one of the last two contracts negotiated by former CEO Mick Leary, along with fellow prop Sam McKendry – has forced the club to consider their options.
Gould's string of new recruits has swelled the community's hopes of a return to the finals this year, but the loss of yet another local junior could further unsettle a fanbase that has already lost home-grown talents Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings. Kingston admits the dramas surrounding the club's playing roster in recent years affected the team's play.
"I think things like that do take its toll, [but Tim's] just the same old guy, working hard every day, working hard at his game," he said.
Asked how big an impact losing a player of Grant's calibre would be, he added: "Yeah, a massive gap. He's such a good leader. He works so hard, through the pre-season, he works so hard. He's a great example for young kids."
Grant was omitted from the squad that went down 32-16 against Parramatta last Saturday, and is likely to again be missing from Ivan Cleary's squad to take on the Raiders at home this weekend.
It is a huge fall from grace for a player who just two years ago put Queensland great Petero Civoniceva on his backside in the Origin arena, but Kingston pointed to the club's new-found depth that has left coach Ivan Cleary with a number of selection headaches.
"I guess the selection stuff you'd have to ask Ivan about. You feel bad for Tim for not playing, but it's just one of those things where we've got a lot of good players at the club and someone unfortunately has to miss out," he said.
The Panthers released the following statement from their executive general manager of rugby league, Phil Gould, regarding Grant's future with the club on Monday: "It is my hope and I'm sure Tim's hope, that he gets to play many more years with the Panthers, and that would be the best result for all concerned."
Penrith's list of front-rowers signed for 2015 include the likes of Grant, Brent Kite, Leilani Latu, Sam McKendry, Nigel Plum and Shaun Spence, while Sam Anderson and Jeremy Latimore are off-contract at the end of this season.